Obama and His Discontents

I’ve been reading a piece in Workplace,”The NEA Representative Assembly of 2010: A Longer View of Crisis and Consciousness,” by Rick Gibson, and thinking about the political dynamics that helped to create the social programs put into place by Roosevelt at the height of the Great Depression. Or, rather, I have been thinking about a particular theory about social security, unemployment insurance and the wide range of other programs that make up what came to be known as the welfare, or social welfare, system.

The theory– I have no idea where it originated– is that FDR was a middle of the road liberal, more paternalistic than revolutionary, until leftist forces began to exert pressure. To use contemporary terminology, FDR backed these very left leaning programs becuase he feared that he would loose his base to more radical elements or, perhaps, even to violent insurrection. So it’s not the election, and subsequent re-election, of a liberal democrat that succeeded, it’s the dynamic interaction between a liberal president and the left-leaning subset of his party.

In the first two years of the Obama administration the so-called progressive or left wing of the Democratic party seemed to go into hibernation as Obama, like FDR a middle of the road Democrat, seemed to reproduce if not strengthen the Republican policies of the Bush administration, from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to education. Gibson’s piece begins with a long catalog of these failures, in hopes of trying to understand the social context that lies behind or beneath the NEA’s recent Representative Assembly.

Gibson is deeply disappointed in the NEA’s seeming complacence but on other fronts Obama may be finally feeling the pressure that was, arguably, crucial to FDR’s successes. (Gibson is informative but long winded; a concise article might be more effective with an academic audience. I also think, ironically, that he isn’t sufficiently aware of the force of historical dialectic.) We are all galled by the tax cuts for the rich, just as we were insulted by the Race to the Top programs. Let’s hope that the increasingly loud complaints will have some force.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and Smarthinking.com. I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol] writinginthewild.com

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